Skating around perfectionism

Somehow this morning I found myself wobbling on a battered pair of 1970s roller skates like a baby deer learning to walk. How did this happen?

In the honeymoon period, the days and weeks following our wedding, colleagues have regularly been asking me how I’m enjoying married life. In truth, just after the wedding I was anxious and struggling. I had lost direction, without the move to New Zealand, the new job and home, or the wedding to focus on.

I kept asking ‘what’s my purpose?’ Turning up to work everyday, going to the gym and coming home to dinner and Netflix didn’t feel like enough. Without a purpose, at times my mind wandered down the track of questioning whether I deserved to be alive, and then asked why I shouldn’t kill myself then and there.

Liam pointed out that I make him and others happy, that I enjoy things in life – going for walks in New Zealand’s greenest landscapes, fine food and drink, my adrenaline-fuelled spin class. But none of that felt like a purpose. So what if I enjoy something? That doesn’t mean that I deserve a place on the planet.

In my veins I’m a perfectionist. That means I set myself (unattainably) high standards and then become anxious or depressed when I (inevitably) don’t achieve them. So just ‘enjoying myself’ is never good enough for me. Where’s the struggle? Where’s the impossible task?

In case you’re wondering ‘Why are you making life so hard for yourself?’, let me back up for a moment. My self-esteem is built on other people’s approval, because as a child I learned that people valued me for my achievements.

So what does all this have to do with a Roller Derby training session? Two things. I needed to challenge the perfectionist thought that ‘having fun’ isn’t a reason to be alive. I also needed to fail at something, and to see for myself that that failure didn’t make me any less worthy of a place on the planet.

RollerskatingIt worked. I had so much fun skating, feeling the adrenaline pumping through me, overflowing with fear about crashing to the floor, feeling that amazing rush when you pick up the speed, and laughing for two hours. I felt alive, and that it was worth being alive. Every time I fell over someone would check I was okay, and then I would pick myself back up and carry on skating. The coach even told us ‘falling over is great, because it means you’re pushing yourself’.

I was smiling and laughing partly because I was failing. Along with the other rookies I giggled my way through crashes, scrapes, falls and wobbles. It was exhilarating. It was a much-needed reminder that having fun is a good thing in life. Whilst it’s great to eradicate global poverty, overturn climate change and end terrorism, it doesn’t mean my life isn’t worth living if I don’t achieve those feats. At least I can say I had fun failing.

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